July 31, 2010

Curry, curry and more curry

It doesn't get much better than this...

This is the day when we clear the calendar and make sure our afternoon is free to go to the annual Swindon Mela - a fantastic celebration of Asian culture that is always a treat and an inspiration.

Today's was the eighth, and we've been to every one. They always take place at Swindon Town Gardens, and because the Mela really captures the imagination of local people, the place quickly becomes packed. At one stage we had to leave because the batteries unexpectedly ran out on my camera, and when we got back, we had to queue to get back in.

One of the highlights is the food, with lots of standard curry dishes to choose from, but we decided to be more adventurous and discovered a stall selling a delicious filled pancake called masala dosa, which was so good that we later went back for more.

This year we decided to keep the spirit of the Mela going a little longer by hosting our own curry evening for our 'gang' of friends, including my twin brother and his wife and their kids (Brian, Sarah, Lucy, James, Pete, Julie, James, Julie, Percy and Liz), which was also a little party to 'christen' our new decking.

My Julie (as I have to call her in the company of the other two) worked really hard to be the perfect hostess, and we had such a good time that I am even thinking of suggesting to her that we make it an annual post-Mela event (although not until the time is ripe).

And especially if Percy brings another little demijohn of excellent scrumpy that I luckily had almost entirely to myself.

July 30, 2010

A portrait of the artist as a young lady

Less than a week into the summer holidays and most other kids, I suspect, have forgotten they ever went to school. But not Holly.

This picture, taken today, sums up the huge amount of hard work she has put into her GCSE Art (which she is only half-way through) - and also her enthusiasm for it. And this is only about half of her coursework, which is made up with lots of time-consuming drawings.


Somebody who doesn't get much of a mention on this blog these days (and probably should) is my mum. But there is increasingly less to say.

Today - although we were two days early - we helped her celebrate her 85th birthday, with the emphasis really on 'helped'.

Now suffering major dementia, she was barely able to understand who each of the gathered members of the family were who descended on the care home where she now lives, but at least she still understood the concept of a birthday - and that it was hers.

The staff had organised a 'pub night' inside the home, where the residents had drinks and listened to music, which everybody enjoyed - even Mum, who just lately has had real problems in understanding what's happening to her, and seemed to be losing any will to try.

Watching somebody who is suffering from dementia is, over a period of time, like watching them slowly fade away, and you just have to be thankful for a few evenings like tonight when, even despite their terrible illness, they can enjoy life again - even if it is only for a few snatched seconds at a time.

July 24, 2010

Potted history

Julie and I decided to have a day out on our own today, just the two of us, which is always greeted with utter amazement from the kids, who can't imagine that we want to go out and not take them with us.

But it was my delayed birthday treat, so we decided to have a generally pottering, lolloping, dithery sort of day - and therefore had to include one of our favourite places in the world: Hungerford. It's famous for its antique shops, but the real attraction for me is the junk, genuine curios and wacky things that are also on sale.

Despite having been there many times over many many years, we had never visited Garden Art, which is a treasure trove of reclaimed and commissioned stuff for gardens, so that was our first stop. It has a converted railway carriage as a showroom, as well as a large area outdoors, filled with fascinating things. The prices suggest the place is aimed at people with big houses and even bigger budgets, but it's still worth a look round.

In the town centre is Below Stairs, which is my favourite Hungerford shop as they always have one or two postboxes for sale, although I can neither afford nor justify the £800 price tag that comes with the King George V post-mounted one.

However, it is a good shop for picking up items of local history. I've previously bought a milk bottle from Upper Stratton brewery, Morse's, there, and today I paid £16 for a large pot or jug that is also part of Swindon's history, being incribed 'Mason's Swindon' (pictured below). I'm not sure which part of its history it's from yet (as I am assuming Mason's were one of the town's many soft drink makers), but I intend to find out.

We finished off the day by doing something that we vowed to do more of, from now on - stopping off at (instead of driving by) intriguing-looking places on the road. We've passed The Halfway Inn many times, especially on our way to the Watermill Theatre at Newbury, but never stopped - until today.

In a way, we've already missed our chance as The Halfway Inn is no longer an inn, but has been renamed simply The Halfway. Although named for being halfway between Newbury and Hungerford, you could say it's now also halfway between a pub and a restaurant. Outwardly it looks like a normal roadside pub, but the telltale signs of the word 'inn' having been removed from the wall should have given us a clue that on the inside it has been turned into something else - a "piano bar and bistro".

If the truth is told, I am much more at home in traditional pubs and don't really approve of this type of fancy establishment in principle, with food that is a bit more upmarket than I am comfortable with, and slightly more expensive, and because the menu is sure to offer limited choice, as it is guaranteed to include a lot of fish, which I don't eat.

My favourite meal whenever I am out (or in, for that matter) is bangers and mash, so I had that, although I couldn't quite bring myself to call it that as the menu described it as something like "leek and pork sausages, served with mashed potatoes and onion marmalade", and when it came it looked liked an entry for Masterchef. Ideally, bangers and mash should be a large plate of mash with four or five sausages sticking out of it, planted end-first. But it turned out to be really tasty.

So we'll probably go back there, partly because the staff and the owner were all really professional and friendly, including the owner, who spoke with a French accent.

This brings me to why the pub trade is struggling, and lots of one-time traditional pubs are having to re-invent themselves as something else. In my opinion, it's much less to do with the smoking ban, the economic climate, the duty on drinks, the opposition they now face from other entertainments/amusements, or any other excuses, but a lot to do with the unfriendliness of the staff at many pubs these days, especially when it also extends to the landlord/landlady/manager.

One thing I never thought we would get today: a lesson on friendliness from a Frenchman.

July 22, 2010

You're gonna carry that weight

Holly has just returned from a practice hike for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, having spent the best part of the last couple of days carrying a rucksack that weighs a ton.

If you think it looks heavy in the picture, let me tell you that it was heavier than it looked.

You could be excused for thinking that because she is doing the Bronze award instead of the complex and challenging Gold award, it would be a bit of a doddle, but even I would have been daunted by how much stuff she had to lug around.

It was hard enough lifting it off the ground and into the boot of the car, and I wouldn't have liked to have carried it as far as she did.

I am told that yesterday's hike lasted nine hours, although that also had something to do with the fact that at one stage they found themselves off course, and being invited to traipse through somebody's house to help pick up the trail.

And all this was only a drill. The real thing takes place in September.

July 20, 2010

Barry disappointing

I'm not sure if I've said this on this blog before, but I quite like Barry Manilow.

There I've said it now, and now I'm out of the closet, I don't care who knows.

Sure, he can do some really cheesey, slushy stuff, but when he writes the songs that make the whole world sing, he's a true entertainer. Actually, he didn't write I Write the Songs, but he did co-write Copacabana, which is in my Top 100 songs of all time.

For some reason, it became a joint favourite of me and my friend Pete when we were young and single, and we took great delight in singing it together; it is, after all, one of the most singalongable songs ever written. And we also became Barry Manilow fans in general, although for him I suspect it was more than a little due to the fact that he briefly had a girlfriend called Mandy. But that was thirty years ago...

Despite my admiration for Copacabana (the song), I'd never seen Copacabana (the musical) until tonight, when we (me, Julie and Holly) made our now regular trip to the Watermill, Newbury, to see their production of it.

Now, anything performed on the little Watermill stage is worth seeing, so this obviously was, but it was mostly a disappointment. It was too long, for a start, at about two and a half hours, and would have been improved by losing a whole hour. And it was slow, with far too much unnecessary dwelling on a not very sophisticated plot, and too many slushy numbers when it was crying out for more upbeat ones.

In fact, it was crying out for Copacabana, which gets half-played, early on, but not again until the show is effectively over, being the play-out number that all the cast sing - even the one who died - and after the hero gets the girl. The main problem is the song has an unhappy ending, and you obviously couldn't have that happening in a musical.

I've seen several musicals performed at the Watermill, and they're usually good, with the intimacy of the venue adding to the fun, but somehow this one seemed like it was missing something. There were only three leggy showgirls to go round, for instance, when it really called for at least half a dozen.

So not the best thing I've ever seen at the Watermill, but still a night out, and at least I feel as though I have paid my homage to Barry.

July 19, 2010

Mmmm... sparkly

Me and Sean (we're sharing) have invested in a new drum kit (just the drums and stands, not the cymbals).

Well, not a brand new kit, but a new old one, being a secondhand one. But it's a very nice one indeed, thank you.

It's a Pearl Export and we bought it off our drum teacher, Paul. We now own three kits - the Roland electronic one, our old Premier kit and now this. One for practising, one for Sean's teaching (and a bit of practising) and one for rehearsing and gigging. The new one will be pressed into service on Thursday when I rehearse with the band.

At the moment it is set up in our living room, sorely tempting us to play it, but we have to remind ourselves that we have neighbours.

That's about all there is to say about it, really, except it's lovely and sparkly, which is almost as important as the fact that it sounds fantastic. Never owned a sparkly drum kit before.

July 17-18, 2010

Twists of fete

We are really getting into the fete, fair and festival season, but had two very different experiences of it this weekend.

On Saturday we were at the GWR Children's Fete, the reincarnation of the old pre-War fete that used to be the highlight of every child's year in those days, and which people of my mum's generation and beyond remembered with huge affection.

As was tradition, it was held at Faringdon Road Park, although the huge crowds that used to be a feature weren't in evidence. In a way, that was a blessing because I found myself manning the Alfred Williams Heritage Society's stall, which is the beginning of our effort to publicise our projects in general and our November festival in particular. Julie was also press-ganged into service.

My job was to accost innocent bystanders and try to thrust flyers (which I designed) into their hands, and generally try to get them interested in the life and works of a bloke most of them had never heard of, who died 80 years.

Generally, if people were interested, they were very interested, although, naturally, there were plenty who must have thought we were completely off our rockers. There were even some who shrugged and grunted at the merest offer of a free leaflet, as if we were a splinter group who had chucked out of the Jehovah's Witnesses for being too intrusive and persistent.

I have to say that the whole idea of starting conversations with strangers about things that they probably don't want to be bothered with is not something that comes naturally to me (understatement). I often tell people that I am the world's worst salesman, and I mean it literally. I couldn't sell anything to anybody, so when I am asked to promote anything in that situation, that's when my inherent shyness makes me crumple.

I've learned to get up in front of people and talk and even play the drummers averagely, but going one-to-one with Joe Public is a huge challenge. I've had to do a little bit of business 'networking' in my time, and if I say that just the thought of that makes my flesh creep, I am understating it again.

It wasn't as bad as networking - after all, I wasn't actually selling anything and the Alfred Williams Heritage Festival is going to be completely free - but after a good five hours of almost non-stop accosting, I felt completely shattered, but thankful that Julie had been there almost all day to prop me up, and a couple of other Alfred supporters had done their bit too.

At least I learned what works and what doesn't, in terms of promoting something in this way, and although the event wasn't as well attended as the organisers would have hoped, the trickle of interested people coming past our stall was just about right. Besides, it's not necessarily the quantity that is important as the quality. We managed to engage, make good contact with and probably win over the Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon, a former mayor, a councillor, the vicar of St Mark's Church, a key member of the town's Asian community, teachers and various other decent people who probably didn't go away thinking we were off our rockers.

We also managed to re-meet Ted and Ivy Poole, who are king and queen of the Swindon folk music scene (if not the whole West Country), who are fascinating people with great stories to tell, including why Paul Simon refused to play in Swindon before he was famous in the Sixties; it was because the gig was in the basement of the Communist Party offices and he was worried (probably justifiably) that it would get him on McCarthy's Witch Hunt list.

I was so busy accosting people that I didn't have much time to see the rest of the fete, but after we packed up, I did get to have a long but interesting chat to a local guy who owns the oldest Mini Traveller still in existence. It is immaculate, and one of only 25 Mk Is still around, of which only 13 are in Britain (although there are about 140 Mk IIs left). It's probably the most unoriginal way of striking up a conversation with a classic car owner, but I told him my brother Ron used to own one (number plate: 552FEA).

The most incredible thing about the old Mini is - and this shouldn't really come as a surprise - you forget how tiny they were; the second of the pictures below was taken at eye level, standing on level ground. We own two cars that we consider small compared with most cars, and minute compared with some of the beasts you see on the roads these days, but the old Minis really were... well, mini.

The Mini Traveller was also at the Queen's Park Family Fun Day on Sunday, which we also had a stroll around. The other attractions included, while we were there, were an Elvis lookalike, Bollywood dancing and then Elvis doing Bollywood dancing - all a bit of a bizarre juxtaposition, but fun.

Look at the megapixels on that

There can't be many things more boring than other people's holiday snaps, but other people's cameras could be one of them.

For the record, however, I bought a new camera today (with my birthday money) and in case anybody is interested, it's an Olympus X-43.

There used to be a time when I would carry a big SLR film camera around with me, along with various lenses and even a motor wind, not to mention a tripod, but the new camera represents another phase of the revolution in digital photography, and how it affects me.

Quite apart from the fact that I can't afford a big camera anyway, I have decided that it's more desirable to have a little camera that I can fit in my pocket and not worry too much about, but which I can take virtually everywhere.

It may look like a toy camera, but I have taken a giant leap in spec, going from my old camera that was an almost embarrassing 4 megapixels and 3x zoom, to 14 megapixels and 5x zoom.

And not only is the revolution in photography amazing, but I also think it's a pretty cool-looking camera too. The choice was silver or blue, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that if you are faced with a choice, life is too short to go for boring silver when you can have trendy blue.

July 16, 2010

On board the tour bus

I'm not sure why I feel this, but I do have the feeling that I should report it, every time our band (The Misfits) have a successful gig.

Not that we've had any disasters, but there are so many things that can go wrong and I'm still not the most confident drummer in the world...

The latest one had a first - our first performance in a marquee, thanks to being booked to entertain visitors at an end-of-term-cum-headmaster's retirement do, at a Swindon junior school.

We had to set up while the kids were doing various things on stage, and then entertain the parents who wanted to stay and see four old duffers play old songs from the retiring headmaster's era. Well, they must have liked us because we did three or four encores, and were thanked by several people at the end for giving them a good night.

Guitarist Roy recently bought a camper van which he is now going to use for transporting him and his gear to gigs, so we all assembled in that beforehand, prompting me to tell the rest of the lads that I never envisaged, in my wildest dreams, that I would ever be sat in a tour bus with a band, waiting to go on stage.

July 12, 2010

Delightful recital

As I think I've said here before, on paper, school recital evenings are not something to look forward to.

For a start, listening to other people's kids play instruments they can't possibly have mastered yet is not a recipe for fun, and when your own kid - in this instance, Holly (being the only one still at Kingsdown School) - gets up to play, you feel apprehension more than anticipation, praying they don't mess up in front of their mates. And when Holly bravely decided to play an in-progress piece, it didn't exactly make us look forward to it much more. On top of that, some of the kids play obscure classical pieces that might be all right if played by the London Philharmonic at the Albert Hall, but not so much on a trombone in an echoing school hall.

So how come I enjoyed tonight's offerings so much that I would gladly have sat through the whole thing again, as soon as it finished?

You are going to have to take my word for this - because there is no recording of it, as far as I know - but the whole thing turned out to be a thoroughly uplifting experience. I am still amazed by the impact music has on kids' education these days, especially compared to my era when the only people who played instruments were sons and daughter of musical parents, and they nearly all played the clarinet.

Not only do they all seem to be at it nowadays, but standards are really high and - most impressive of all - many of them play without fear. Some of them even write their own stuff.

Holly played her piece very well, even though she has only just started to learn it in preparation for her Grade 5 exam, and had only a couple of minor struggles with a really difficult part in the middle. And there were plenty of other highlights.

One kid got up to play the guitar and sing Chasing Cars, a song that is hard to sing and hard to play because it has an unusual sequence that throws up verses where you don't expect them. Our band tried to play it, a while ago, but we gave it up as too difficult, so to see a teenager even attempt it was impressive enough. Then there was another angelic and shy-looking kid who got up with his guitar and surprisingly did equally well with a Coldplay song.

There were also three drummers to see, which is always interesting for another drummer.

But best of all was our nextdoor neighbour, Jordan, playing his ukulele(!) while an infectiously smiling girl sang an unusual arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World (combined) so beautifully and with such charisma (both of them), that it was literally one of the most enjoyable performances I've seen since... since... well, ever, probably. Fortunately, Jordan's mother couldn't get there in time to see it, so they repeated it at the end - and the second time around it was even better!

This is something the Government should think about during its current enthusiasm for cutting public services, especially education; you can judge the quality of a generation most effectively by looking at its music, and we should do everything we can to encourage them to play, regardless of cost.

July 11, 2010

The World Cup and coping-with-blood-and-gore gene distribution

The World Cup fizzled out into a suitably stuttering ending, with Spain virtually winning by default as all the other contenders showed themselves, one by one, not to have the... um, balls to make much of a competition of it.

I would have liked to have seen Germany win it because they moved the ball twice as fast as everybody else and with twice as much precision, only to be stifled by a stangely wormanlike and spoiling Spain in the semi-finals.

In terms of football, it was sadly lacking in characters, incidents and charm, which was summed up by a final in which probably the most fascinating question was how long it would be before one of the Dutch players got sent off. Their uncompromising and sometimes brutal attitude made them no friends, which is completely the opposite to what you would normally expect from the Dutch.

In a tournament in which not even Brazil showed much flair, it was ultimately too much to expect the world's second most attractive footballing nation to show much finesse this time, in complete contrast to their previous two final appearances, in 1974 and 1978.

But they weren't the only team to play out of character, because all of them resorted to styles that other nations used to adopt. Spain played like Germany used to; Germany played like Holland; Holland played like Uruguay; Uruguay played like Argentina; Argentina played like Spain; Brazil played like France; Italy played like Wales; France played like Luxembourg; South Africa played like Mexico; Ghana played like Cameroon; Australia played like New Zealand; New Zealand played like Australia. And England played like Scotland. On a bad day. The only team who played like they normally do were Ronaldo and Portugal - over-rated, charmless and a pale imitation of the Spaniards.

Two other things that must be said: Spain are the scruffiest team ever to win the World Cup, and if ITV never get to broadcast a World Cup match ever again, it will be too soon, what with all their ad breaks, over-done graphics and unnecessary background music - and especially their SHOUTING COMMENTATORS.

Despite all this, and even though it seems so long ago that England were knocked out that I can't even be sure they were ever in it, the tournament was a massive success. It may not be as beautiful a game, these days, as it has been in the past, but it still has the power to inspire nations or - in the case of this World Cup - a whole continent.

It has been so successful and so uplifting for seemingly everybody in South Africa that the media virtually gave up trying to find people with bad things to say about it. No doubt they are saving it up to slag off the 2012 London Olympics.

Anyway, the real drama today, apparently, was not at the World Cup final, but at my nephew Richard's house, where his father (my brother) Ron was helping to build a bannister until he put a circular saw through his finger (as reported on Rich's blog).

To cut to the quick - in a manner of speaking - he ended up severing an artery and a nerve, and cutting nearly done to the bone, but not through a tendon, so was able to have it all stitched up.

But the episode underlined, once again, the extremely unfair way in which coping-with-blood-and-gore genes have been distributed in our family. I have precisely none of them. Ron, though, no doubt took it in his stride - he has had a heart transplant, after all - and Rich found it interesting because he's a paramedic and doesn't usually get to see the accident happen!

And the moral of the story is obviously if you really have to put a circular saw through your finger, it's always a good idea to do it at the home of a paramedic.

July 10, 2010

Bigging it up

Now that was a good day - but not exactly what we had in mind.

Julie and I had planned today as my little birthday day out, just the two of us, but events got in our way.

Firstly there was a late booking for our band to play at the Swiss Chalet tonight (which actually went pretty well), so we had to be back in town in plenty of time for that. Then the responsibility of running a free teenage taxi service meant that we had to get Sean to Lydiard Park in the middle of the day, where he was helping to set up stages for the bands playing at the Big Arts Day.

Since we had been cursing the timing of this event anyway, because we were due to miss it, we decided to ditch our original plans and go along. And we're very glad we did.

The Big Arts Day had all kinds of attractions, the main part of which was the stages that showcased local young people's musical efforts, and there were loads of other stalls concerning artistic, crafty and cultural pursuits. At one stage we even got dragged into listening to some storytelling, which was mainly aimed at children. But, hey, I can think of a lot worse things to be wasting my time with on a Saturday afternoon.

The best thing about the Big Arts Day is it was so well supported. By 4pm, when we needed to get home and had been there for over four hours, the place was packed, but there were queues of people still waiting to get in.

It's ironic that some twerp had had his letter published in the Adver in the morning, slagging the town off as being "soulless", and making the monumental mistake of thinking the soul of a town exists in bricks and mortar, not its people. In the end, an estimated 20,000 souls turned up at the Big Arts Day to make the point.

Negative people like that also like to refer to Swindon as a "cultural desert", but the only reason they don't see the culture all around them is because they don't get off their backsides and find it. It didn't take much finding at Lydiard Park today.

So, to sum up: the Big Arts Day actually made me feel proud to be a Swindonian, and the next person who tells me how bad everything is, especially round here, can, quite frankly, sod off.

July 9, 2010

You say it's your birthday; it's my birthday too, yeah

Today was my 49th birthday - and probably one of the most disjointed I have had.

I should be long past the age when I get excited about birthdays, but I still do. Furthermore, I should be past the age when I get a lot of pleasure from getting some childish things as presents, but I still do. This was again a theme of the joint presents that Julie, Sean and Holly assembled, and Holly went to a great deal of trouble to wrap up perfectly (see above).

So I got another toy VW camper, sweets, chocolate, a wooden car kit, a runalong robot to make and a book on how to make mechanical toys out of card, as well as some big boys' stuff - a book of cryptic crosswords (which I have recently got hooked on), beer, drumsticks and six Marx Brothers films on DVD.

I didn't get to open them, or my cards, until late afternoon, it being far too complicated, these days, to try to organise such things in the morning, like we did when the kids were younger.

I also had to be out early because our band was playing at - of all things - a private birthday party. It was for a 12-year-old girl and had a Beatles theme as the whole family, including the kids, were apparently Beatles mad. We'd been asked to learn some Beatles songs to play, which we did, and I even sang Back in the USSR - twice.

But the highlight for me was playing Birthday (from the White Album) which was not only appropriate but also good to play because it is one of those many album tracks that are usually unsung - in more ways than ones.

So it was a birthday that took on a life of its own and never seemed quite under my control, but a memorable one, all the same.

July 5, 2010

Gill Cuss, 1964-2010

It's been a sad day for us as we attended our nextdoor neighbour Gill's funeral.

A truly lovely person and aged just 45, she died two weeks ago after battlling cancer for about two years, having been ill for about half the time since she and her husband Kevin moved in next door.

The service, at St Philip's Church, which was packed, was as nice as could possibly be expected in the circumstances, although by the time the close family went off for the private burial, there couldn't have been a dry eye in the place.

I must say how much admiration I had for the honesty of the vicar, the Rev Carol Stone, who not only delivered a thoughtful address but admitted that she was at a loss to explain why somebody so young and full of life should die so tragically. I have to admit I have a big problem with that too.

Gill had apparently planned much of the ceremony herself and had been keen that she should not be forgotten, but had already achieved that by the type of person she was, being one of those precious people who it is impossible to picture without a smile on their face.

For that reason it is no exaggeration to say the service was one of the most difficult hours of my life, and also because, for the first time in my life, I was attending the funeral of somebody who was younger than me.

July 3, 2010

Moscow girls make me sing and shout

When I first took up drumming, about eight years ago, I told my drum teacher "I just want to play along to The Beatles," and never for a moment thought I would be singing along too.

I've sung with our band before, doing Fields of Gold a few times, but it just didn't sound right, so we dropped it. I'm not entirely convinced it was my singing that was the problem. Sometimes, the song just doesn't fit the band.

But tonight I made my comeback, singing Back in the USSR at our gig at Swindon Conservative Club, which went OK.

I find drumming difficult enough at the best of times, so singing at the same time is a huge challenge. If all the words and the stresses fell on the beat it would be easy enough, but they obviously don't, so the only way through it is to play a pop beat that is so basic that I can do it on 'automatic pilot', leaving my little brain free to worry about the singing alone.

It's all very well singing along to bits of a song in the shower or the car, or when you are not under pressure, but when it comes to remembering all the words in front of an audience, including how the verses and choruses fit together, it's suddenly not so easy. Fortunately, being a lifelong Beatles fan, the words of Back in the USSR came to me fairly automatically. As long as you can remember the first word of each verse, you're half way there, and if you're lucky, the rest just follows.

Then the only things you have to crack is making sure your microphone is in the right place and the lead is tucked out of the way of the sticks - which I only partialled remembered - and singing at the correct speed.

Keeping time and the correct tempo are the drummer's job, even if he's singing, but this is much more difficult than you might think. Not only is there a tendency to rush it, especially if you're singing, so that you get it over with as quickly as possible, but a lot of songs are actually much slower than you might think - Back in the USSR being one of them. Another is Rocking All Over the World, by Status Quo, which plods more than races, and which I have been known to play much too fast.

So, considering the number of things that can go wrong, my song, like the rest of the gig, went remarkably smoothly. It's all a bit of a blur to me now, but as far as I can remember, it was done at more or less the correct tempo.

It says a lot about the repertoire we have built up that we played for about two hours and 20 minutes - nearly an hour longer than standard - and still had a dozen other songs we could have played. We even did a request, playing Mustang Sally, even though we'd never done it together, not even in rehearsal, and even though I hadn't listened to the song for years, couldn't remember how it started and - most crucially of all - had only a vague idea of where the drumming is supposed to stop, mid-way through the song. Nobody noticed.

I still get a bit apprehensive before a gig, but not exactly nervous, and the best bit of the night is still - and probably always will be - getting to the end and breathing a sigh of relief that I've managed the whole thing without dropping my sticks.

Out of college

Sean has been passing some milestones lately, and it's about time I caught up with them here.

He's now sat all his A-Level exams at New College (music technology, English and Business Studies), which seemed to go well, and although we're obviously hoping he's got good passes, they are not crucial because he has no intention of going to university.

That's because his plans to one day become a full-time drum teacher are still on course. He already has his first student - a 43-year-old who comes for an hour's lesson every week - is still doing evening and after-school sessions for the Swindon Music Service's Rock School, gets a few days' work assisting with music exams at Swindon Music Service and has been asked to do some more (unpaid) drumming, which is great experience and for getting his name around.

He also nearly landed a perfect two-and-a-half-day job at a Swindon school as a music technician, which would have been perfect for getting experience and a reliable income while still having time to build up his teaching. He had an interview, but didn't get the job.

Meanwhile, much of his spare time is spent writing songs, improving his guitar, jamming with his mates, practising drums for a diploma he is due to sit in November, and there are even plans for his band (in which he plays guitar) to go on a little tour of Denmark, Poland and Germany in August! A bit like The Beatles did, though hopefully not so seedy.

He's also passed his driving theory test, which means he can now apply to take his driving test.